Sunday 12 January 2014

Welcome! Maria Grace -author of Regency Romance

I am probably the odd one out. I actually love the research process. It is probably one of my favorite things about writing historical fiction. As a kid, I loved to read reproductions of old cookbooks—and honestly I still do. Vintage cookbooks often offer insight into daily household activities from eras long past. Knowing what the spaces people lived in and how they cooked, ate, cleaned their homes, their clothes and themselves, the medicines they prepared and the maladies they prepared them for all paint such a vivid picture for me of what life was like, I feel a little transported to that era myself.

Top 100 Regency romance!
That is the crux of world-building, a skill every writer must have whether they are creating their worlds, whether fantastical ones or recreating a historical ones. So I indulge my researching-itch with period references whenever I can. Digitized period books have made my efforts so much easier. I now have hundreds of such references on my hard drive, with access on my phone if I really want. Sometimes it is a bit of a head trip, referencing a 1794 cookbook for instructions on cleaning fruit juice stains from silk using the WiFi connection on my cellphone! The things writers do for their craft!
Top 100 historical
I frequently find myself searching out little details that I could otherwise gloss over, since, really, they aren’t THAT important to the story. Things like specific decorative items or furnishings of rooms, what was served at meals or teas, what did they taste and smell like. Were they just place on the table, or was there some particular way they were presented? Were there special serving vessels used or just everyday dishes and did those dishes communicate anything about the host or hostess. These are little things which don’t necessarily carry the plot, but they can transport the reader into the story world and that is important to me.

In my most recent book, my characters spend a great deal of time in London, necessitating research into what kind of homes people occupied in Regency London. I would love to share with you some of what I learned.

Georgian Terrace Houses

Terrace houses dominated the London landscape during the Regency. Almost the entire London population, rich and poor alike, line in one or another version of the terrace house. The term terrace was borrowed from garden terraces and described streets of houses with uniform fronts and height that single elevation to the street.

The design of these houses varied little whether located in London, Bath, Dublin or Edinburgh though the exterior facades might differ with local stone or brick, stucco or fancy ornamentation. Georgian terraces built along main urban thoroughfares often incorporated ground-floor shops with residences in the upper stories.    

History of Terrace Houses

The Great Fire of London in 1666 brought about the first of a series of Building Acts (1667, 1707, 1709 and 1774). These acts set building requirements to reduce the risk of fire spreading. Although they regulated London buildings specifically, they also influenced building style in many other cities.

The initial 1667 Act required brick or stone to be used for all external and party walls eliminating the typical timber fronts of the Tudor and early Stuart houses. The 1707 Act eliminated thick timber cornices. The 1709 Act required that window frames be set back behind the building line. The 1774 Act required the use of stone or brick, specified street width, the size and layout of the houses, floor to ceiling heights and controlled decoration on facades even more rigidly.

This final building act also divided terrace houses into four classes, defined by the number of stories, ceiling heights, road widths and wall thicknesses. At the very bottom of the scale, fourth rate houses were those built in large numbers by speculative developers from the late eighteenth century in response to industrial development in towns like Liverpool and Manchester. These houses were often built back-to-back in tiny yards pressed behind street frontages. In contrast, some of the wealthiest people in the country owned palatial, first rate terraced houses in prestigious locales like Belgrave Square and Carlton House Terrace.

First rate houses faced streets and lanes, were worth over £850 per year in ground rent and occupied over 900 square feet of ground space. Keep in mind, these houses usually had four stories, plus a basement so they were frequently more than 4500 square feet on the inside. Second rate houses faced streets, notable lanes, and the River Thames. They were worth between £350 and £850 in ground rent and had an exterior foot print of 500-900 square feet.

Third rate houses faced principal streets, rented for £150-£300 and occupied 350-500 square feet ground space. The most humble terrace houses, the fourth rate house, was worth less than £150 per year in rent and occupied less than 350 square feet of land. These houses might be only three stories instead of four and stood in yards and courts, apart from easy street access.

Terrace House Design

Whatever the size of the terrace house, the general plan was always the same. There would be one room at the back and one at the front of each floor with a passage and staircase at one side. The rooms were sometimes divided into smaller units.

Basements All except the poorest houses had basements. Most of the service rooms would be in the basement which was often accessed through an open area in front with steps leading down to it. The open area would give light to the kitchen windows and opened onto storage vaults under the pavement. Small wells around the house would allow for windows to light other subterranean rooms including back staircases and household offices.

A variety of offices might be housed in the basement include the scullery (a small room for washing and story dishes and kitchen equipment); pantry and larder for food storage; butler's pantry and quarters, safe, and cleaning-room for the silver; housekeeper's-office; still-room for drying and preparing foods and herbs for storage, medicinal formulations, soap, ect; servants'-hall where servants might eat and socialize; a wine-cellar and a closet for beer; laundry and housemaid's-closet for linen storage; quarters for housekeeper, cook and possibly men-servants; and vaults for coals and dust. Even in the largest of house not all these rooms might be present and if present, they could be very small, with many of them packed tightly into the limited basement space.

A lift, also called a dumbwaiter, might be employed to bring food and other items up from the basement to the principle floors of the house. The lift might be located in a back stair well rather than opening directly into a room of the house.

Ground Floor The best rooms in a townhouse were on the ground and first floor and faced the back of the house, away from the dirt and noise of the street. These included drawing rooms, parlors and dining rooms.

Drawing rooms were a place near the front door for accessibility in greeting visitors. The women of the house and their female guests would also use the drawing room as a place to retreat after dinner, so they would be near the dining room as well. In contrast, the more modest parlor was a private room for the family’s enjoyment.

In large houses, the ground floor might also house an entrance hall, cloak-room, storage closet, and library or office. These would be more likely to face the street side of the house.

The first floor The first floor contained large rooms for entertaining. The rooms might be used for card paying, parlor games and dancing. Large or folding doors might connect smaller rooms so that they could be opened to create larger spaces. Principle bedrooms might also occupy this floor, usually located in the front (street side) of the house.

The second floor The more modest second floor featured secondary bedrooms for children, or perhaps a lodgers or guests. The rooms on this floor would be more simply furnished and decorated than those on lower floors. Bathing rooms, closets and linen storage rooms for both cleaned and soiled lines might also be located on this floor.

The attic The rooms on the highest floor were reserved servants, who often used beds that were let down from the wall like murphy beds. Nursery suits and storage rooms might also be located here. These rooms were cheaply painted and furnished.

Outbuildings Large townhomes might also include outbuilding behind the house. Stables and carriage houses might also feature quarters for coachmen and grooms for the horses.

Even though there was a great deal of similarity between the terraced homes, the differences were important reflections of the wealth and status of the occupants of these home and offer a delicious variety of details for world building and story crafting.

Characteristics of the Georgian Town House
The Ideal House
Kerr, Robert. The Gentleman's House (1871, 3ed.)
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen and Food. Hambledon (1995)
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)
London Architecture
Parissien, Steven. Regency Style. Phaidon Press Limited (2000)
Sabor, Peter (editor). The Cambridge Edition of the Juvenilia. Cambridge University Press (2006)
Spencer-Churchill, Henrietta. Classic Georgian Style. Collins & Brown (1997)
Summerson, John. Georgian London. Yale University Press (2003) Town Houses
Yorke, Trevor. Georgian & Regency Houses Explained. Countryside Books (2007)
Yorke, Trevor. Regency House Styles. Countryside Books (2013)  

You can find my most recent book
Twelfth Night at Longbourn 
Amazon Paperback available soon

Connect with Maria Grace

Twelfth Night—a night for wondrous things to happen.

At least for other people.

In the months after her sisters' weddings, nothing has gone well for Kitty Bennet. Since Lydia’s infamous elopement, her friends have abandoned her, and Longbourn is more prison than home. Not even Elizabeth's new status as Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley can repair the damage to Kitty’s reputation. More than anything else, she wishes to leave the plain ordinary Kitty behind and become Catherine Bennet, a proper young lady.

Her only ray of hope is an invitation to Pemberley for the holidays. Perhaps there she might escape the effects of her sister’s shame.

Getting to Pemberley is not as simple as it sounds. First she must navigate the perils of London society, the moods of Georgiana Darcy, and the chance encounter with the man who once broke her heart. Perhaps though, as Catherine, she might prove herself worthy of that gentleman’s regard.

But, in an instant all her hopes are dashed, and her dreams of becoming Catherine evaporate. Will Kitty Bennet's inner strength be enough to bring her heart's desire?

On an ordinary night perhaps not, but on Twelfth Night, it just might be enough.

Author bio

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

1 comment:

  1. I'm thrilled to welcome you to the blog, Maria.
    What a wonderful post - so informative - it's obvious you enjoy your research.
    Also, congratulations on the success of your books - currently enjoying top 100 historical status.
    kind regards,
    Grace x


Due to the amount of SPAM I have been forced to moderate comments. If you are a spammer - please go away! You comment will not be posted and you are wasting your own time.